"It may, therefore, be fairly assumed, that an ACADEMY, whose objects and effects are so enlightened and extensive as those which are prosecuted here, is highly worthy of the protection of a patriot-king, of a dignified nobility, and of a wise people.
"Another circumstance, permit me, gentlemen, to mention, because I can speak of it with peculiar satisfaction, as important to the best interests of this Institution, and with the fullest assurance of its truth, from the personal knowledge I have had of you all, and the intimacy in which I have stood with most of you; it is this, that I have ever found you steadily determined to support the regulations under which this ACADEMY has been governed, and brought to its present conspicuous situation, and by an attention to which, we shall always be sure to go on with the greatest prudence and advantage.
"It is a matter of no less satisfaction to me, when I say, that I have always observed your bosoms to glow with gratitude and loyal affection to our August Founder, Patron, and Benefactor. I am convinced, it is your wish to retain His friendship, and the friendship of every branch of His Illustrious Family. I know these to be your sentiments, and they are sentiments in which I participate with you. In every situation of my life it shall be my invariable study to demonstrate my duty to my sovereign, my love for this Institution, and my zeal for the cultivation of genius, and the growth of universal virtue."
Mr. West having thus been raised to the head of an institution, embracing within itself the most distinguished artists at that time in the world, it might be proper to pause here to review the merits of the works and exertions by which he acquired this eminent honour, had he not, since that time, attained still more distinction in his profession. I shall, however, for the present, suspend the consideration of his progress, as an artist, to trace his efforts, in the situation of President of the Royal Academy, to promote the improvement of the pupils, by those occasional discourses, which, in imitation of the excellent example of Sir Joshua Reynolds, he deemed it an essential part of his duty to deliver.
The first Discourse of Mr. West to the Students of the Academy.—Progress of the Arts.—Of the Advantages of Schools of Art.—On the Natural Origin of the Arts.—Of the Patronage which honoured the Patrons and the Artists.—Professional Advice.—Promising State of the Arts in Britain.
Mr. West's first discourse to the students of the Royal Academy was delivered on the 10th of December, 1792, on the occasion of the distribution of the prizes. Without ostensibly differing in his views from Sir Joshua Reynolds, who by his lectures acquired, as an author, a degree of celebrity equal to his fame as an artist, the new President confined himself more strictly to professional topics. He recalled to the remembrance of his auditors the circumstances in which the Academy originated, and reminded them of the encouragement which the efforts of artists had received from the countenance which the King had given to the arts. "Let those," said he, "who have traced the progress of the fine arts, say among what people did the arts rise, from such a state as that in which they were in this country about forty years ago, to the height which they have attained here in so short a period. In ancient Greece, from the retreat of Xerxes, when they were in their infancy, to the age of Alexander the Great, when they reached their maturity, we find a period of no less than one hundred and fifty years elapsed. In Rome we can make no calculation directly applicable; for among the Romans the habit of employing Greek artists, and the rage of collecting, suffered no distinct traces to be left of the progress of the arts among them. Even in architecture, to which their claims were most obviously decided, we see not sufficiently the gradations of their own peculiar taste and genius. But in modern Italy, leaving out of view the age of Cimabue, and even that of Giotto, and dating from the institution of the Academy of St. Luke at Florence, it required a hundred and fifty years to produce a Michael Angelo, a Raphael, and a Bramante."
Mr. West, after a few general observations on the necessary union between moral conduct and good taste, adverts to the alleged influence which such institutions as the Royal Academy have in producing mannerism in the students, than which nothing can be more obnoxious to the progress of refined art. "But," said he, "while I am urging the advantage of freedom and nature in study to genius, let me not be misunderstood. There is no untruth in the idea that great wits are allied to great eccentricity. Genius is apt to run wild if not brought under some regulation. It is a flood whose current will be dangerous if it is not kept within proper banks. But it is one thing to regulate its impetuosity, and another very different to direct its natural courses. In every branch of art there are certain laws by which genius may be chastened; but the corrections gained by attention to these laws amputate nothing that is legitimate, pure, and elegant. Leaving these graces untouched, the schools of art have dominion enough in curbing what is wild, irregular, and absurd.
"A college of art founded in this part of the world cannot be expected, like a college of literature, to lay before its young members all that may be necessary to complete their knowledge and taste. What is to be had from books may be obtained almost every where; but the books of instruction by which the artist alone can be perfected, are those great works which still remain immoveable in that part of the world, where the fine arts in modern times have been carried to their highest degree of perfection. I trust a period will come, when this Academy will be able to send the young artist, not from one spot or one seminary to another, but to gather improvement from every celebrated work of art wherever situated. But the progress and all future success of the artist must depend upon himself. He must be in love with his art or he will never excel in it.
"That the arts of design were among the first suggestions vouchsafed by Heaven to mankind, is not a proposition at which any man needs to start. This truth is indeed manifested by every little child, whose first essay is to make for itself the resemblance of some object to which it has been accustomed in the nursery.
"In the arts of design were conveyed the original means of communicating ideas, which the discoverers of countries show us to have been seized upon, as it were involuntarily, by all the first stages of society. Although the people were rude in knowledge and in manners, yet they were possessed of the means by which they could draw figures of things, and they could make those figures speak their purposes to others as well as to themselves. The Mexicans conversed in that way when Cortes came among them; and the savages of North America still employ the same means of communicating intelligence.
"When, therefore, you have taken up the arts of design as your profession, you have embraced that which has not only been sanctioned by the cultivation of the earliest antiquity, but to which their is no antiquity prior, except that of the visible creation.
"Religion itself in the earlier days of the world, would probably have failed in its progress without the arts of design, for religion was then emblematic; and what could an emblematic theology do without the aid of the fine arts, and especially the art of sculpture? Religion and the arts, in fact, sprung up together, were introduced by the same people, and went hand in hand, first through the continent of Asia, then through Egypt, next through Greece and her colonies, and in process of time through every part of Italy, and even to the north of Europe. In the pagodas of India, in some caverns of Media, and among various ruins in Persia, are still to be seen the early monuments of emblematic art, and wrought in all the possible difficulties of skill.
"When in the space of two thousand years, after the erection of some of those monuments, the fine arts came to be established in Greece in a better spirit as to taste, a higher estimation could not be annexed to any circumstance in society, than was given to the arts by the wise and elegant inhabitants of that country. They regarded them as their public records, as the means of perpetuating all public fame, all private honour, and all valuable instruction. The professors of them were considered as public characters who watched over the events that were passing, and who had in their hands the power of embodying them for ever. And is not this still the case with the artists of every country, how varied soever may be its maxims, or its system of action, from those of Greece? Is the artist indeed not that watchman who observes the great incidents of his time, and rescues them from oblivion?
"When he turns from these views to contemplate the patronage which has been given to the fine arts, will he have less reason to esteem his profession,—a profession so richly cherished by all the greatest characters of the earth? and which in return has immortalised its patrons. Posterity has never ceased to venerate the names of the Cosmos and Lorenzos who sought art, and fostered to their full maturity the various talents of their countrymen. The palace of the Medici, still existing in Florence, exhibits not only in its treasures the proofs of their munificence, but also within its walls those apartments and offices for artists, in every branch which those great men considered requisite to the decoration of their residence. And history has immortalised the solicitude with which the vast fortune of the family, acquired originally in honourable commerce, and rising gloriously to sovereign power, was made contributory to the nourishing of the arts and literature; of every thing that was intellectual, liberal, and great."
Mr. West then continued to enumerate the honour which the successive illustrious patrons of the fine arts have acquired, deducing from it motives of emulation to the young students to strive for similar distinction, that their names may be mingled with those illustrious races and families to whom Heaven is pleased to give superior eminence and influence in human affairs. In doing this he took occasion to animadvert on the base adulation of the artists of France in the age of Louis XIV.; or rather of the dishonour which the patronage of that monarch has drawn upon himself, by the unworthy manner in which he required the artists to gratify his personal vanity. He then proceeded to give some professional advice. "I wish," said he, "to leave this impression on the minds of all who hear me, that the great alphabet of our art is the human figure. By a competent knowledge of that figure the painter will be enabled to give a more just character and motion to that which he intends to delineate. When that motion is actuated by passion, and combined with other figures, groups are formed. These groups make words, and these words make sentences; by which the painter's tablet speaks a universal language;" and he concluded with saying, "Gentlemen, It is a great treasure and a great trust which is put into our hands. The fine arts were late before they crossed the British Channel, but now we may fairly pronounce that they have made their special abode with us. There is nothing in this climate unpropitious to their growth; and if the idea has been conceived in the world, enough has been done by the artists of Great Britain to disprove it. I know that I am speaking to the first professional characters in Europe in every branch of elegant art, as well as those who are most distinguished in taste and judgment. If there be diffused through this country a spirit of encouragement equal to the abilities which are ripe to meet it, I may venture to predict that the sun of our arts will have a long and glorious career."
Discourse to the Royal Academy in 1794.—Observations on the Advantage of drawing the Human Figure correctly.—On the Propriety of cultivating the Eye, in order to enlarge the Variety of our Pleasures derived from Objects of Sight.—On characteristic Distinctions in Art.—Illustrations drawn from the Apollo Belvidere, and from the Venus de Medici; comprehending critical Remarks on those Statues.
The prizes in the Royal Academy being distributed every second year, on the 10th of December, 1794, Mr. West delivered another Discourse, in which he took a more scientific view of the principles of the fine arts, than in the desultory observations which constituted the substance of his first lecture. As it contained much valuable information, mixed up with remarks incidental to the occasion, I have taken the liberty of abstracting the professional instruction from the less important matter, in order to give what deserves to be preserved and generally known in a concise and an unbroken form.
"It may be assumed," said Mr. West, "as an unquestionable principle, that the artist who has made himself master of the drawing of the human figure, in its moral and physical expression, will succeed not only in portrait-painting, but in the delineation of animals, and even of still life, much better than if he had directed his attention to inferior objects. For the human figure in that point of consideration, in which it becomes a model to art, is more beautiful than any other in nature; and is distinguished, above every other, by the variety of the phenomena which it exhibits, arising from the different modifications of feeling and passion. In my opinion, it would, therefore, be of incalculable advantage to the public, if the drawing of the human figure were taught as an elementary essential in education. It would do more than any other species of oral or written instruction, to implant among the youth of the noble and opulent classes that correctness of taste which is so ornamental to their rank in society; while it would guide the artizan in the improvement of his productions in such a manner, as greatly to enrich the stock of manufactures, and to increase the articles of commerce; and, as the sight is perhaps the most delightful of all our senses, this education of the eye would multiply the sources of enjoyment.
"The value of the cultivated ear is well understood; and the time bestowed on the acquisition of the universal language of music, is abundantly repaid by the gratification which it affords, although not employed in the communication of knowledge, but merely as a source of agreeable sensation. Were the same attention paid to the improvement of the eye, which is given to that of the ear, should we not be rewarded with as great an increase of the blameless pleasures of life,—from the power of discriminating hues and forms,—as we derive from the knowledge of musical proportions and sounds? The cultivation of the sense of sight would have such an effect in improving even the faculty of executing those productions of mechanical labour which constitute so large a portion of the riches of a commercial and refined people, that it ought to be regarded among the mere operative classes of society as a primary object in the education of their apprentices. Indeed, it may be confidently asserted, that an artizan, accustomed to an accurate discrimination of outline, will, more readily than another not educated with equal care in that particular, perceive the fitness or defects of every species of mechanical contrivance; and, in consequence, be enabled to suggest expedients which would tend to enlarge the field of invention. We can form no idea to ourselves how many of the imperfections in the most ingenious of our machines and engines would have been obviated, had the inventors been accustomed to draw with accuracy.
"But, to the student of the fine arts, this important branch of education will yield but few of the advantages which it is calculated to afford, unless his studies are directed by a philosophical spirit, and the observation of physical expression rendered conducive to some moral purpose. Without the guidance of such a spirit, painting and sculpture are but ornamental manufactures; and the works of Raphael and Michael Angelo, considered without reference to the manifestations which they exhibit of moral influence, possess no merit beyond the productions of the ordinary paper-hanger.
"The first operation of this philosophical spirit will lead the student to contemplate the general form of the figure as an object of beauty; and thence instruct him to analyse the use and form of every separate part; the relation and mutual aid of the parts to each other; and the necessary effect of the whole in unison.
"By an investigation of this kind, he will arrive at what constitutes character in art; and, in pursuing his analysis, he will discover that the general construction of the human figure in the male indicates strength and activity; and that the form of the individual man, in proportion to the power of being active, is more or less perfect. In the male, the degree of beauty depends on the degree of activity with which all the parts of the body are capable of performing their respective and mutual functions; but the characteristics of perfection of form in the female are very different; delicacy of frame and modesty of demeanour, with less capability to be active, constitute the peculiar graces of woman.
"When the student has settled in his own mind the general and primary characteristics, in either sex, of the human figure, the next step will enable him to reduce the particular character of his subject into its proper class, whether it rank under the sublime or the beautiful, the heroic or the graceful, the masculine or the feminine, or in any of its other softer or more spirited distinctions. For the course of his studies will have made him acquainted with the moral operations of character, as they are expressed upon the external form; and the habit of discrimination, thus acquired, will have taught him the action or attitude by which all moral movements of character are usually accompanied. By this knowledge of the general figure, this habitual aptitude to perceive the beauty and fitness of its parts, and of the correspondence between the emotions of the mind and the actions of the body, he will find himself in possession of all that Zeuxis sought for in the graces of the different beautiful women whom he collected together, that he might be enabled to paint a proper picture of Helen; and it is the happy result of this knowledge which we see in the Apollo Belvidere and the Venus de Medici, that renders them so valuable as objects of study.
"But the student must be always careful to distinguish between objects of study and objects of imitation; for the works which will best improve his taste and exalt his imagination, are precisely those which he should least endeavour to imitate; because, in proportion to their appropriate excellences, their beauties are limited in their application.
"The Apollo is represented by the mythologists as a perfect man, in the vigour of life; tall, handsome and animated; his locks rising and floating on the wind; accomplished in mind and body; skilled in the benevolent art of alleviating pain; music his delight, and poetry and song his continual recreation. His activity was shown in dancing, running, and the manly exercises of the quoit, the sling, and the bow. He was swift in his pursuits, and terrible in his anger.—Such was the Pythian Apollo; and were a sculptor to think of forming the statue of such a character, would he not determine that his body, strong and vigorous from constant exercise, should be nobly erect; that, as his lungs were expanded by habits of swiftness in the chase, his chest should be large and full; that his thighs, as the source of movement in his legs, should have the appearance of enlarged vigour and solidity; and that his legs, in a similar manner, should also possess uncommon strength to induce and propagate the action of the feet? The nostrils ought to be elevated, because the quick respirations of running and dancing would naturally produce that effect; and, for the same reason, the mouth should appear to be habitually a little open. While his arms, firm and nervous by the exercise of the quoit, the sling, and the bow, should participate in the general vigour and agility of the other members;—and would not this be the Apollo Belvidere?
"Were the young artist, in like manner, to propose to himself a subject in which he would endeavour to represent the peculiar excellences of woman, would he not say, that these excellences consist in a virtuous mind, a modest mien, a tranquil deportment, and a gracefulness in motion? And, in embodying the combined beauty of these qualities, would he not bestow on the figure a general, smooth, and round fulness of form, to indicate the softness of character; bend the head gently forward, in the common attitude of modesty; and awaken our ideas of the slow and graceful movements peculiar to the sex, by limbs free from that masculine and sinewy expression which is the consequence of active exercise?—and such is the Venus de Medici. It would be utterly impossible to place a person so formed in the attitude of the Apollo, without destroying all those amiable and gentle associations of the mind which are inspired by contemplating 'the statue which enchants the world.'
"Art affords no finer specimens of the successful application of the principles which I have laid down than in those two noble productions."
Discourse to the Academy in 1797.—On the Principles of Painting and Sculpture.—Of Embellishments in Architecture.—Of the Taste of the Ancients.—Errors of the Moderns.—Of the good Taste of the Greeks in Appropriations of Character to their Statues.—On Drawing.—Of Light and Shade.—Principles of Colouring in Painting.—Illustration.—Of the Warm and Cold Colours.—Of Copying fine Pictures.—Of Composition.—On the Benefits to be derived from Sketching;—and of the Advantage of being familiar with the Characteristics of Objects in Nature.
In the discourse which Mr. West delivered from the chair of the Academy in 1797, he resumed the subject which he had but slightly opened, in that of which the foregoing chapter contains the substance. I shall therefore endeavour in the same manner, and as correctly as I can, to present a view of the mode in which he treated his argument, and as nearly as possible in his own language.
"As the foundation of those philosophical principles," said Mr. West, "on which the whole power of art must rest, I wish to direct the attention of the student, especially in painting and sculpture, to an early study of the human figure, with reference to proportion, expression, and character.
"When I speak of painting and sculpture, it is not my intention to pass over architecture, as if it were less dependent on philosophical principles, although what I have chiefly to observe with respect to it relates to embellishment;—a branch of art which artists are too apt to regard as not under the control of any principle, but subject only to their own taste and fancy. If the young architect commences his career with this erroneous notion, he will be undone, if there is any just notions of his art in the country.
"It is, therefore, necessary, as he derives his models from the ancients, that he should enquire into the origin of those embellishments with which the architects of antiquity decorated their various edifices. In the prosecution of his enquiries, he will find that the ornaments of temples and mausolea, may be traced back to the periods of emblematic art, and become convinced that the spoils of victims, and instruments of sacrifice, were appropriate ornaments of the temple; while urns, containing the ashes of the dead, and the tears of the surviving friends, were the invariable decorations of the mausoleum. The good taste of the classic ancients prevented them from ever intermixing the respective emblems of different buildings, or rather, in their minds custom preserved them from falling into such an incongruous error, as to place the ornaments belonging to the depositaries of the dead on triumphal arches, palaces, and public offices. They considered in the ornaments the character and purpose of the edifice; and they would have been ashamed to have thought it possible that their palaces might be mistaken for mausolea, or their tombs for the mansions of festivity.
"Is the country in which we live free from the absurdities which confound these necessary distinctions? Have we never beheld on the porticoes of palaces, public halls, or places of amusement, the skins of animals devoted to the rites of the pagan religion, or vases consecrated to the ashes of the dead, or the tears of the living? Violations of sense and character, in this respect, are daily committed. We might, with as much propriety, adorn the friezes of our palaces and theatres with the skulls and cross thigh-bones of the human figure, which are the emblems of death in every country throughout modern Europe!
"I do not here allude to any particular work, nor do I speak of this want of principle as general. It is indeed impossible that I can be supposed to mean the latter; for we have among us men distinguished in the profession of architecture, who would do honour to the most refined periods of antiquity. But all are not equally chaste; and in addressing myself to the young, it is my duty to guard them against those deviations from good taste, which, without such a caution, they might conceive to be sanctioned by some degree of example. It is my wish to preserve them from the innovations of caprice and fashion, to which the public is always prone; and to assure the youth of genius, that while he continues to found the merit of his works on true principles, he will always find, notwithstanding the apparent generality of any fashion, that there is no surer way, either to fame or fortune, than by acting in art, as well as life, on those principles which have received the sanction of experience, and the approbation of the wise of all ages.
"I shall now return to the consideration of painting and sculpture.
"The Greeks, above all others, afford us the best and most decided proofs of the beauty arising from the philosophical consideration of the subject intended to be represented. To all their deities a fixed and appropriate character was given, from which it would have perhaps been profanity to depart. This character was the result of a careful consideration of the ideal beauty suitable to the respective attributes of the different deities. Thus in their Jupiter, Neptune, Hercules, Vulcan, Mars, and Pluto; the Apollo, Mercury, Hymen, and Cupid, and also in the goddesses Juno, Minerva, Venus, Hebe, the Nymphs and Graces; appeared a vast discrimination of character, at the same time as true an individuality as if the different forms had been the works of Nature herself.
"In your progress through that mechanical part of your professional education, which is directed to the acquisition of a perfect knowledge of the human figure, I recommend to you a scrupulous exactness in imitating what is immediately before you, in order that you may acquire the habit of observing with precision every object that presents itself to your sight. Accustom yourselves to draw all the deviations of the figure, till you are as much acquainted with them as with the alphabet of your own language, and can make them with as much facility as your letters; for they are indeed the letters and alphabet of your profession, whether it be painting or sculpture.
"These divisions consist of the head, with its features taken in three points of view, front, back, and profile; the neck in like manner, also the thorax, abdomen, and pelvis; thigh, knee, leg, ankle, the carpus, metacarpus, and toes; the clavicula, arm, fore-arm, wrist, carpus, metacarpus, and fingers. While you are employed on these, it would be highly proper to have before you the osteology of the part on which you are engaged, as in that consists the foundation of your pursuit. And, in this period of your studies, I recommend that your drawings be geometrical, as when you draw and study a column with its base and capital. At the same time you should not neglect to gain a few points in perspective, particularly so far as to give effect to the square and cylinder, in order to know what constitutes the vanishing point, and point of distance, in the subject you are going to draw.
"After you have perfected yourselves in the parts of the figure, begin to draw the Greek figures entire, with the same attention to correctness as when you drew the divisions in your earlier lessons. Attend to the perspective according to the vanishing point opposite to your eye. You will naturally seek to possess your mind with the special character of the figure before you;—and of all the Grecian figures, I would advise you to make from the Apollo and Venus a general measurement or standard for man and woman, taking the head and its features, as the part by which you measure the divisions of those figures.
"Light and shade must not be neglected; for what you effect in drawing by the contour of the figure, light and shade must effect with the projections of those parts which front you in the figure. Light and shade there produce what becomes outline to another drawing of the same object in a right angle to the place where you sit.
"It seems not impossible to reduce to the simplicity of rule or principle, what may have appeared difficult in this branch of art to young students, and may have been too often pursued at random by others. All forms in nature, both animate and inanimate, partake of the round form more than of any other shape; and when lighted, whether by the sun or flame, or by apertures admitting light, must have two relative extremes of light and shadow, two balancing tints, the illuminated and the reflected, divided by a middle tint or the aerial. The effect of illumination by flame or aperture, differs from that of the sun in this respect; the sun illuminates with parallel rays, which fall over all parts of the enlightened side of the subject, while the light of a flame or an aperture only strikes directly on the nearest point of the object, producing an effect which more or less resembles the illumination of the sun in proportion to the distance and dimensions of the object.
"Let us then suppose a ball to be the object on which the light falls, in a direction of forty-five degrees or the diagonal of a square, and at a right angle from the ball to the place where you stand. One half of the ball will appear illuminated, and the other dark. This state of the two hemispheres constitutes the two masses of light and shadow. In the centre of the mass of light falls the focus of the illumination in the ball; between the centre of the illumination and the circle of the ball, where the illumination, reaches its extremity, lies what may be called the transparent tint; and between it and the dark side of the ball lies the serial or middle tint. The point of darkness, the extreme of shade, is diametrically opposite to the focus of illumination, between which and the aerial tint lies the tint of reflection. If the ball rests on a plain, it will throw a shadow equal in length to one diameter and a quarter of the ball. That shadow will be darker than the shade on the ball, and the darkest part will be where the plain and ball come in contact with each other.
"This simple experiment, whether performed in the open sun-shine, or with artificial illumination, will lead you to the true principles of light and shade over all objects in nature, whether mountains, clouds, rocks, trees, single figures, or groups of figures. It would therefore be of great use, when you are going to give light and shade to any object, first to make the experiment of the ball, and in giving that light and shade, follow the lessons with which it will furnish you.
"You will find that this experiment will instruct you, not only in the principles of light and shade, but also of colours; for that there is a corresponding hue with respect to colours is not to be disputed. In order to demonstrate this, place in the ball which you have illuminated, the prismatic colours, suiting their hues to those of the tints. Yellow will answer to the focus of illumination, and the other secondary and primary hues will fall into their proper places. Hence, on the enlightened side of a group or figure, you may lay yellow, orange, red, and then violet, but never on the side where the light recedes. On that side must come the other prismatic colours in their natural order. Yellow must pass to green, the green to blue, and the blue to purple. The primary colours of yellow, orange, and red, are the warm colours, and belong to the illuminated side of objects; the violet is the intermediate, and green, blue, and purple are the cold colours, and belong to the retiring parts of your composition.
"On the same principle, and in the same order, must be placed the tints which compose the fleshy bodies of men and women, but so blended with each other, as to give the softness appropriate to the luminous quality and texture of flesh; paying attention, at the same time, to reflections on its surface from other objects, and to its participation of their colours. The latter is a distinct circumstance arising from accident.
"When the sun illuminates a human body, in the same manner as the ball, the focus of the illumination in that body will partake of the yellow; and the luminous or transparent tint, will have the orange and the red. These produce, what is called, the carnation. The pure red, occasioned by the blood, lies in the lips, cheeks, joints, and extremities of the figure, and no where else. On the receding side of the focus is the local colour of the flesh, and on the receding side of that is the greenish tint; in the shade will fall the cold or bluish, and in the reflection will fall the tint of purple. The most perfect tint of ground, from which to relieve this arrangement of colours, is either blue, grey, or purple, for those colours partake of the complexion of the watery sky in which the rainbow appears, or the ground which best exhibits the prismatic colours.
"In acquiring a practical knowledge of the happiest manner of distributing your colours according to nature, it will assist you, if you will copy with attention some pieces of Titian, Correggio, Reubens, and Vandyke; the masters in whose works you will most eminently find the system pursued, which I have endeavoured to illustrate by the simple image of the ball.
"Having passed from the antique school, to that in which you draw after the living figure, still adhere to that scrupulous exactness of drawing with which you first set out; marking with precision the divisions of the figure. After you have made yourselves acquainted with the drawing of the living figure, you must then begin to enlarge your lines, and to give softness and breadth, to direct your attention to what constitutes style and character, and to discriminate these from what constitutes manner.
"To assist you in this nice discrimination, consult the prints and works of Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Hannibal Carracci. In them you will find the strongest and purest evidence of style and character, yet all differing from each other, and all equally brought out of nature. I do not recommend them with a view that you should adopt the style and character of any of them; but to show from those great examples, that style and character, although ever founded in nature, are as various as the individual genius of every artist; that they are as free to you as they were to those masters; that if you will consult your own mind, you will draw forth a style and character of your own, and therefore no man can ever be excused for sinking into a mannerist.
"And I cannot omit to observe here, that in the order of your studies, your mental powers should be cherished and brought into action by reading and reflection, but not until you have acquired practical facility in your art. Too often it happens, and I have seen it with concern, that the presumption of youth, or the errors of instruction, have reversed this order, and have carried many to attempt essays of research and learning, before they were well grounded in the principles of professional practice. What other consequences can follow from such a course, but that the student will turn in discontent from his own productions, because they fall short of the ideas in his mind; and induce him, perhaps, to abandon, with disgust, a profession in which he might have shone with distinction, had he taken a right method of cultivating his own powers!
"The great masters were all at an early age great in the mechanical department of their art, before they established any name by their philosophical style and character. Michael Angelo, when a mere youth, modelled and drew in a manner which astonished his own master. Raphael, at not more than nineteen years of age, rivalled his instructor, Pietro Perugino, in his executive talent; and, owing to this, he was enabled, at the age of only twenty-five, to send forth his two great works, the Dispute on the Sacrament, and the School of Athens. Guido, Bernini, and many others of the first class, pursued the same course of study, and were in the full possession of their powers very young. Vandyke, before he was twenty years old, assisted Reubens in his greatest works; and on a certain occasion, when the pupils of Reubens were amusing themselves in the absence of their master, one of them happened to fall against 'the Mother,' in the Descent from the Cross, which Vandyke repaired in a manner so admirable, that when the painter came next to the picture, he expressed himself surprised at the excellence of his own work, and said, that he thought he had not done that arm so well. In a word, wherever we find the executive power high at an early age, whether in painting or sculpture, we have an assurance of future excellence, which nothing but indolence can prevent. And, to give that early facility correctness of execution, remember and pursue the great maxim of Apelles:—
"'Nulla dies, sine linea.'
"The young artist may, indeed, draw lines every day and every hour with advantage, whether it be to amuse himself in society or in the fields. He should accustom himself to sketch every thing, especially what is rare and singular in nature. Let nothing of the animate creation on the earth, or in the air, or in the water, pass you unnoticed; especially those which are distinguished for their picturesque beauty, or remarkable for dignity of form or elegance of colour. Fix them distinctly in your sketch-book and in your memory. Observe, with the same contemplative eye, the landscape, the appearance of trees, figures dispersed around, and their aerial distance, as well as lineal forms. In this class of observations, omit not to observe the light and shade, in consequence of the sun's rays being intercepted by clouds or other accidents. Besides this, let your mind be familiar with the characteristics of the ocean; mark its calm dignity when undisturbed by the winds, and all its various states between that and its terrible sublimity when agitated by the tempest. Sketch with attention its foaming and winding coasts with distant land, and that awful line which separates it from the Heavens. Replenished with these stores, your imagination will then come forth as a river, collected from little springs, spreads into might and majesty. The hand will then readily execute what it has been so practised in acquiring; while the mind will embrace its subjects with confidence, by being so well accustomed to observe their picturesque effect."
Discourse.—Introduction.—On the Philosophy of Character in Art.—Of Phidias.—Of Apelles.—Of the Progress of the Arts among the Moderns.—Of Leonardo da Vinci.—Of Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Bartolomeo.—Of Titian.—Of the Effects of Patronage.
It is not my intention to give all the discourses which Mr. West addressed to the students of the Academy, but only those which contain, what may be called, illustrations of the principles of his art. The following, however, is so interesting and so various in its matter, that it would be improper in me to make any attempt to garble or abridge it, beyond omitting the mere incidental notice of temporary circumstances.
"The discourse which I am about to deliver, according to usual custom on the return of this day, must be considered as addressed more immediately to those among the students, who have made so much progress in art, as to be masters of the human figure, of perspective, and of those other parts of study, which I have heretofore recommended as the elements of painting and sculpture; and who are therefore about to enter on the higher paths of professional excellence. It will consequently be my object, now, to show how that excellence is to be attained; and this will best be done, as I conceive, by showing how it has been attained by others, in whom that excellence has been most distinguished in the ancient and modern world. By pursuing the principles on which they moved, you have the best encouragement in their illustrious example, while, by neglecting those principles, you can have no more reason to hope for such success as they met with, than you can think of reaching a distant land, without road or compass to direct your steps.
"The ground which I shall propose for your attention is this—to investigate those philosophical principles on which all truth of character is founded, and by which that sublime attainment, the highest refinement in art, and without which every thing else is merely mechanical, may be brought to a decided point, in all the variety by which it is distinguished through the animated world.
"On this ground, and on this alone, rose Phidias and Apelles to the celebrity which they held among the Greeks; and among the Italians, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Titian, Correggio, and some others, who became the completest models in sculpture and painting. Their predecessors, indeed, in both countries, had for a considerable time been preparing the way, but not having equally studied the best means, or those means not having been equally before them, it was reserved of course for the great characters I have mentioned, to unite philosophical with professional truth, and to exhibit to the world in their works the standards of style. From the same source arose another consequence, ever worthy and pleasing to be mentioned;—the exhibition of those perfections was always accompanied by that ardent patronage, which not only cheered their minds, and invigorated their powers, but has left a glory on their country, which no subsequent events have been able to obliterate, and which never will be obliterated in any country where the sublimity of art, involving the most refined embellishments of civilized life, is cherished by those who are in a capacity to cherish it.
"In a very early period of the arts in Greece, we meet with a circumstance which shows the advantages derived from consulting with philosophy, if it does not also show the origin and outset of those advantages. The circumstance to which I allude is, that in the period when the sculptors contented themselves with the stationary forms and appearance of figures, in imitation of their predecessors, the Egyptians; at that time they began to submit their works to the judgment of philosophers, one of whom, being called in to survey a statue, which a sculptor, then eminent, was going to expose to public view, remarked, that the human figure before him wanted motion, or that expression of intellect and will, from which motion and character too must arise; for man had a soul and mind, which put him at the head of the animal creation, and, therefore, without that soul and mind, the form of man was degraded.
"This observation touched the point, then, necessary to be obviated, in order to overcome the primitive rudeness which still attached to sculpture; and without the application of the principle contained in the observation, sculpture and painting too might have stood still for ages. And from what other source than the principles of philosophic study, or, in other words, from reflection on the moral powers or passions of man, their several effects, as produced in their workings on the human figure, could that improvement be obtained? It was the constant employment of the philosophic mind, to study those causes and effects, and to reduce them to a more distinct display for the truth and utility of their own writings. The philosophers were, therefore, the most likely to assist the artist in those displays of character which tended to illustrate the truth of his own works. Nor on this account is it any disparagement to the artists of those days, when philosophic studies were confined to particular classes of men, that this moral view of art was not sufficiently taken up by the more mechanical part of the profession.
"Thus, however, the opening was made to the important expression of character. And the lesson suggested by the philosopher alluded to, is not confined to the Greeks alone. I wish, young gentlemen, to leave it in all its force upon your minds. For if the figures you design, whether singly or in groups, have not their actions correspondent to what their minds appear to be pursuing, they will suit any other subject as well as that in which they are placed. This remark is the more worthy of attention, as it does not apply to any of the figures of the Grecian masters whom I have mentioned. The figure by Phidias on Monte Cavallo at Rome, the Apollo, the Laocoon, the Venus, the Hercules, and the fighting gladiator, are all perfect on the just principles I have mentioned. There is no room for amendment; their propriety is unquestionable; their truth eternal. And so in the works of modern art, we see the same truth and perfection in the Capella Sestina by Michael Angelo, in the Supper by Leonardo da Vinci at Milan, in the Cartoons by Raphael, the St. Peter Martyr by Titian, and the Note by Correggio.
"Having mentioned the figure on Monte Cavallo, representing, as you all know, a young man curbing a horse, I cannot help stopping to remark, that if any work of sculpture ever demonstrated more strongly the value of uniting philosophic science with that of art, for the production of character, it is that work by Phidias. Never did the power of art express more evidently than is done in the head of the young man, that every feature is moved by an internal mental power, and corresponds in the most perfect truth with what we see to be the labouring passion. When we view it in front we are astonished that the mouth does not speak. No observer ever thinks that the head is a block of stone. But the whole group is masterly on the most refined principles of science. It was intended to be seen at an elevated point, as well as at a distant one. All its forms, therefore, are grand without the minutiae of parts; its effects are striking and momentary; and in every circumstance considered, it is plainly the work of consummate genius and science united.
"Was it possible that in an age which gave a Phidias to the Greeks, there should not have been a Pericles to reward, by his patronage, merit so exalted?
"We may carry the same reflections into the progress of the pencil. As the Greeks became refined in their minds, they gained an Apelles to paint, and an Alexander to patronise. We are not enabled now to speak of the works of that great master. His figure of Alexander, in the character of young Ammon, is described as his master-piece. Such was the expression with which the hand grasped the thunder-bolt, that it seemed actually to start from the pannel. The expression and force of character given to the whole, was equally marvellous. And when we consider the refinement to which the human mind had then arrived among the Greeks, the immense value which they put upon the works of that artist, and that they were too wise to devote their applause to things which fell short of consummate excellence, we cannot doubt but it was by the cultivation of the public mind that the arts reached such attainments among them. What must have been their exquisite state when the simple line drawn by Protogenes,—in the consciousness of his acknowledged perfection, and which was intended to announce the man who drew it, as much as if he had told his name,—was so far excelled by another simple line over it by Apelles, that the former at once confessed himself outdone? Those two lines, simple as they were, were by no means trifling in their instruction. They gave us, as it were, an epitome of the progress which the arts had long been making in Greece. For if the drawing of a simple line, of such a master as Protogenes, who was conceived by many to hold the first pencil in the world, was surpassed, to his great surprise, by another, how high must refinement have been raised by the exertions of the artists in a period so emulous of perfection!
"The stages in the progress of modern art, have been frequently distinguished by ages similar to those which succeed one another in the human growth. We may safely assert, that in the infantine and youthful period of modern art, literature and science were only seen in their infancy and growth. The opening of nature displayed in the works of Massaccio; the graces exhibited in those of Lorenzo Ghiberti; and the advancement in perspective made by one or two others, kept pace nearly with that progress in philosophy which appeared in the best writings of those days. As the one took a larger step in the next stage or period, the other stepped forth in a like degree at the same time; so that in Leonardo da Vinci we see the great painter and the great philosopher: his painting most clearly refined in its principles, and enlarged in its powers by his philosophical studies. As a philosopher, and especially in those parts of knowledge which were most interesting to his profession, he laid that foundation of science which has ever since been adopted and admired. As a painter, he not only went far beyond his predecessors, but laid down those principles of science in the expression of individual character, and of a soul and figure specifically and completely appropriated to each other, which opened the way to the greatness acquired by those who followed him in his studies. In that point of excellence, Leonardo da Vinci was original; and it was the natural result of a mind like his, formed to philosophical investigation, and deeply attentive to all the variety of appearances by which the passions are marked in the human countenance and frame. These he traced to their sources: he found them in their radical principles, and by his knowledge of these principles, his expression of character became perfected.
"The nature exhibited by Massaccio had not gone to that extent of expression. It however spoke a soul: he drew forth an inward mind on the outward countenance: he gave a character; but that character was not so discriminated as to become the index of one particular passion more than another; or to decide, for instance, the head of Jupiter from that of a Minerva: so at with the aid, of different types, it should not befit a Saviour or a Magdalene.
"We must take along with us in this review, that the splendid patronage of the house of Medici came forward, to meet, and to cherish the happy advancements made by the masters of those days; so that Florence, which was then the greatest seat of the arts, was no less brilliant and illustrious in the generosity which strove to perpetuate them, than in the genius by which they had been cultivated.
"Leonardo da Vinci, by the principles which he so effectually realised, has always been considered as having established the manly as well as the graceful age of modern art. But manhood is never so fixed as to be incapable of progress. The manhood then attained in art was capable of farther advancement beyond the growth which the powers of Da Vinci had given it. This was eminently illustrated by the sublimity of style which was attained by the genius of Michael Angelo and of Raphael;—quality equally original in both, although issuing from different principles. In the former, it was founded on that force and grandeur, allied to poetic spirit, which rises above all that is common, and leaves behind it all that is tame and simply correct; which, not content with engaging the senses, seizes on the imagination, while it never departs from truth. In the latter, it was made up of the beautiful and graceful, which attracts by the assemblage of whatever is most perfect and elevated in the character or subject.
"Raphael coming somewhat later than Michael Angelo on the theatre of art, had the advantage of many of that master's works, as well as of all the improvements which had been made before. His life was a short one, and the first studies of it were almost lost in the dry school of Pietro Perugino. But he soon found his way to the philosophy of Leonardo da Vinci, and to the profound principles on which his admirable expression of character is founded. The dignity of drapery, and of light and shade, opened by Bartolomeo, invited his studies; and the sublimity of the human figure in the sculptures of his cotemporary, Michael Angelo, fastened on his contemplation. Thus he entered at once, as it were, into the inheritance of whatever excellencies had been produced before him. With these advantages he was called to adorn the apartments of the Vatican. And can we wonder that his first works there, at the age of seven-and-twenty, were the Dispute on the Sacrament, and the School of Athens?
"But what was it that contributed very much to the production of those works? It was not the profound studies of Raphael's mind, but the spirit of the age which warmed those studies.—It was a great age, in which learning and science were become diffused, at least throughout Europe:—a great age replete with characters studious of philosophy; and, therefore, fond of the instruction conveyed by the arts;—fond of those high and more profound compositions which entered into the spirit of superior character, and made some study and research necessary to develope their beauties. To meet the taste of such an age, the two first public works of Raphael, above mentioned, were well suited, inasmuch as they were intended to convey the comparative views of theology and human science, or, in other words, the improvement of the human mind arising from the two great sources of national wisdom and revealed light. It must not also be forgotten, that while the spirit of the age was warming his mind to the peculiar dignity of theme and style which marks his works, the generous and noble patronage of the papal court was exerting its utmost power to immortalise him, and every other great master that arose within the circle of its influence. Their merit and their fame found as animated a protector in Leo X. as Phidias experienced in Pericles, or Apelles in Alexander the Great.
"As the Florentine and Roman schools were thus gradually refined in the excellence of design and character, by the aid of philosophical studies; so the Venetian masters were equally indebted to the like studies, without which, they would never have reached their admirable system of colouring. If any have conceived otherwise, they have taken a very superficial view of their system. Where is there greater science concerned than in the whole theory of colours? It employed the investigation of Newton; and shall that pass for a common or easy attainment which took up so much of his profound studies? The Venetian masters had been long working their way to the radical principles of this science, not only for a just and perfect arrangement of their colouring, but for that clear and transparent system in the use of it, which have equally marked that school in the days of its maturity under Titian. He it was who established, on unerring principles, founded on nature and truth, that accomplished system which John Bellini had first laboured to discover, and in which Giorgioni had made further advancements. Besides his zeal in his profession, Titian was born in that higher rank of life which might be supposed to give him an easier access to the elegant studies of philosophic science; and he had prosecuted, with great ardour, the science of chemisty, the better to understand the properties of colour, their homogeneous blendings, purity, and duration; as well as the properties of oils, gums, and other fluids, which might form the fittest vehicles to convey his colours upon canvass.
"The elegant Charles V. was to Titian in liberal pratronage what Leo X. was to Raphael. That munificent prince carried him into Spain, where his works laid the foundation of the Spanish school in painting, and gave a relish for that art to all the succeeding monarchs.
"What has been remarked respecting Titian and the Venetian school, is equally true of that of Correggio among the Lombard painters. The mind of Correggio appears evidently, by his works, to have been profoundly enlightened; and especially in the philosophical arrangement and general doctrine of colours. What has been said by some concerning the low circumstances of his fortune, (which is not true,) neither proves the obscurity of his birth, nor that philosophical researches were out of his reach, or beside his emulation. The truth is, that he was born of a very honourable family, and was accomplished in the elegancies of life; not that it is necessary for any man to have the advantages of birth, in order to become enlightened by science in any way whatever. The patronage which attended him was of the most elevated kind, being dispensed by the illustrious houses of Mantua and Modena, as well as by the institution of the Doma of Parma. But what is by no means less worthy of our notice is, that of all the masters who have risen up in any of the schools of Italy, not one has been the means of giving success and reputation to those who have followed any of their respective styles equally with Correggio. The ineffable softness, sweetness, and grace in his paintings, have never varied in their effects with the course of time. And they who have since partaken of these powers in his style, have very generally become great masters, (distinguished by none of the excesses which have sometimes attended the imitation of other models,) and successful in gainng the approbation and favour of the world.
"The paths pursued by those great examples must become yours, young gentlemen, or you can neither be eminent in colouring, nor sure in the execution of your art. It is possible, that by habits of practice, handed over from one to another, or by little managements in laying colours on the canvass, where little or nothing of the general science has been studied and attained, many may so far succeed as to avoid glaring errors, and a violation of those first principles which have their foundation in nature. But that success is at all times extremely hazardous and dependent on chance. More frequently it has introduced invincible conflicts between the primary and secondary colours, to the ruin of harmony and aerial perspective, and to the overthrow of the artist, whenever the picture is glanced upon by the eye of scientific discernment. Contemptible are the best of such managements, ever in the hands of those that know them best, compared with a full and masterly possession of the philosophy by which this part of your art must be guided. If the ordonnance of colour, on each figure and on the whole, is not disposed according to the immutable laws of the science, no fine effect, or accordant tones of colours, can possibly be produced. There is, therefore, but one way to make sure of success, and to raise your characters in this point, and that is by making yourselves masters of the whole philosophy of colours, as Titian and Correggio did, and some others, in whose works, from first to last, the minutest scrutiny will never find a colour misplaced or prejudiced by its disposition with others.
"To be perfect, is the emulation which belongs to those arts in which you are engaged, and the anxious hope of the country in which you live. To animate you to that perfection, is the object of what I have now addressed to you. I am persuaded it is your ambition to be perfect. This Academy looks with pleasure on the progress of your studies, as it may look with pride on the high and cultivated state to which the arts have been raised among us ever since they have had the establishment of a regular school. It is no flattery to the present aera in Britain to say, that in no age of the world have the arts been carried in any country to such a summit as they now hold among us, in so short a period as half a century at most. Among the Greeks some centuries had elapsed, amidst no little emulation in the arts, before they obtained an Apelles. In modern Italy, without going as far back as we might, it took up a century from the appearance of Massaccio to the perfection of a Raphael. If, then, the British school has risen so much more speedily to that celebrity in art, which it is too well known and established to need any illustration here, what should hinder her professors from becoming the most distinguished rivals of the fame acquired by the Greeks and Italians, with a due perseverance in the studies which lead to perfection, and with those encouragements and support of patronage which are due to genius?
"As the source of that patronage, we look up with affectionate gratitude to the benign and flattering attention of our most gracious Sovereign, to whose regard for the elegant arts, and munificent disposition to cherish every enlargement of science, and improvement of the human mind, his people are indebted for this public seminary, his own favoured Institution, and the first which this country has ever been so fortunate as to see established. Under his royal patronage and support, this Academy has risen to its present strength and flourishing condition. His patronage, which would be improperly estimated by mere expenditure, in a country not similar in the latitude of government, or in the controul over revenue, to ancient Greece or modern Italy, but properly by its diffusive influence, has been the source of every other patronage in the country; has inspired that refined taste and ardour for elegant arts, which have given in fact a new character to the people, and has raised within and without this Academy that body of distinguished men, whose works have contributed to immortalise his reign, as his love for the arts has become the means of immortalising them.
"The patronage which has flowed from other quarters, deserves very honourable mention; and is of so much importance, that without it the spirit of art must droop, and the very profession of it be contracted in every situation whatever. It is not by the influence and support of any individual character, how elevated soever, or how warm soever in his attachment to taste and elegance, that the extent of professional talents spread through a country, can be effectually sustained with adequate encouragements. It is the wealthy and the great, who are commonly trained by their situations to the perception of what is elegant and refined, that must come forward in such an illustrious undertaking. It is only they who can meet every where the merit, let it be disseminated as it may, which is entitled, to distinction. Without the patronage of such, the arts could never have obtained their high meridian in Greece and Italy. Had not the communities and rich individuals in Greece taken the arts under their protection, not all the encouragement of Pericles, or of Alexander the Great, could have drawn forth that immense body of painting and sculpture which filled the country. Had the patronage of Italy rested with the popes and princes, unaccompanied by those munificent supports which flowed from the churches and convents, as well as from private individuals of rank and wealth, the galleries of that country could never have been so superbly filled as they were, nor could those collections have been made from thence, which have filled so many galleries and cabinets elsewhere.
"These facts are not to be denied; but they also lead us to another lesson, which is, that the patronage so generally dispensed was for the protection of living genius, and that they by whom it was so dispensed sought no other collections than the works of native and living artists. On any other ground there can be no such thing as patronage. Nothing else is worthy of that name. The true and generous patron of great works selects those which are produced by the talents existing around him. By collecting from other countries, he may greatly enrich himself, but can never give celebrity to the country in which he lives. The encouragement extended to the genius of a single artist, though it may produce but one original work, adds more to the celebrity of a people, and is a higher proof of true patriotic ardour, and of a generous love for the progress of art, than all the collections that ever were made by the productions of other countries, and all the expenditures that ever were bestowed in making them. Did the habits of our domestic circumstances, like those of Italy, permit the ingenious student to have access to those works of established masters, procured by the spirit of their noble and wealthy possessors, and of many distinguished amateurs on the most liberal terms, and with the honourable purpose of forming the taste, as well as enriching the treasures, of the country, every thing would then be done, which is wanting to complete the public benefit of such collections, and the general gratitude to which they who have made them would be entitled. So abundant are the accomplished examples in art already introduced among us, that there would then be no necessity for students to run to other countries for those improvements which their own can furnish.
"It cannot be improper at any time to make these remarks; while it must also be observed, that the patronage held forth by many great and noble characters needs no spur; and the means projected by other spirited individuals in opulent stations, for extending and perpetuating the works of British masters, fall short in no degree of the most fervid energies and examples, of which any country has been able to boast.
"It is your duty, young gentlemen, to become accomplished in your professions, that you may keep alive those energies and examples of patronage, when you come to draw the attention of the world to your own works. It is by your success that the arts must be carried on and preserved here. Patronage can only be expected to follow what is eminently meritorious, and more especially that general patronage diffused through the more respectable ranks of society, which is to professional merit, what the ocean is to the earth;—the great fund from whence it must ever be refreshed, and without whose abundance, conveyed through innumerable channels, every thing must presently become dry, and all productions cease to exist."
Discourse.—Introduction.—Of appropriate Character in Historical Composition.—Architecture among the Greeks and Romans.—Of the Athenian Marbles.—Of the Ancient Statues.—Of the Moses and Saviour of Michael Angelo.—Of the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo.—Of Leonardo da Vinci.—Of Bartolomeo.—Of Raphael.—Of Titian, and his St. Peter Martyr.—Of the different Italian Schools.—Of the Effects of the Royal Academy.—Of the Prince Regent's Promise to encourage the Fine Arts.
After a careful examination of all the remaining notes of Mr. West, it appeared to me, that the discourse which he delivered on the 10th of December, 1811, was the only one that required particular notice, after those which I have already introduced. In some respects it will, perhaps, be deemed the most interesting of the whole.
"The few points," said the President, "upon which I mean to touch in the present Discourse, are those which more immediately apply to the students, who are generously striving to attain excellence in the first class of refined art,—historical painting.
"Whether their exertions are directed to painting, or the sister arts, architecture and sculpture, the first thing they must impress upon their minds, and engraft upon every shoot of their fancy, is that of the appropriate character, by which the subject they are about to treat, is distinguished from all other subjects. On this foundation, all the points of refined art which are, in the truest sense, intellectual, invariably rest; for without justness of character the works of the pencil can have but little value, and can never entitle the artist to the praise of a well-governed genius, or of possessing that philosophical precision of judgment, which is the source of excellence in the superior walk of his profession. At the same time, let it be indelibly fixed in your minds, that when decided character is to be given, that character must be accompanied by correctness of outline, whether it be in painting or in sculpture. Any representation of the human figure, in the higher department of art, wanting these requisites, is, to the feelings of the educated artist, deficient in that, for the loss of which no other excellency can compensate.
"Architecture.—This department of art received its decided character from the Greeks. They distinctly fixed the embellishments to the several orders; and, by their adaptation of these embellishments and orders, their buildings obtained a distinct and appropriate character, which declared the uses for which they were erected.
"The Romans, in their best era of taste, copied their Grecian instructors in that appropriate character of embellishment which explained, at a glance, the use of their respective buildings; but, in their latter ages, they declined from this original purity; and it is the fragments of that corruption, in which they lost the characteristic precision of the Greeks, that we have seen of late years employed upon many of our buildings. The want of mental reflection in employing the orders of architectures with a rational precision as to character, produces the same sort of deficiency which we find in an historical picture; where, although each figure, in correct proportion, be well drawn, with drapery elegantly folded, yet, not being employed appropriately to the subject, affords no satisfaction to the spectator.
"The Greeks were in architecture what they were in sculpture; and it is to them you must look for the original purity of both. We feel rejoiced, that the exertions recently made by a noble personage to enrich our studies in both of these departments of art are such, that we may say, London has become the Athens for study. It is the mental power displayed in the Elgin marbles that I wish the juvenile artist to notice. Look at the equestrian groups of the young Athenians in this collection, and you will find in them that momentary motion which life gives on the occasion to the riders and their horses. The horse we perceive feels that power which the impulse of life has given to his rider; we see in him the animation of his whole frame; in the fire of his eyes, the distention of his nostrils, and in the rapid motion of his feet, yielding to the guidance of his rider, or in the speeding of his course: they are, therefore, in perfect unison with the life in each. At this moment of their animation, they appear to have been turned into stone by some majestic power, and not created by the human hand. The single head of the horse, in the same collection, seems as if it had, by the same influence, been struck into marble, when he was exerting all the energy of his motion.
"These admirable sculptures, which now adorn our city, are the union of Athenian genius and philosophy, and illustrate my meaning respecting the mental impression which is so essentially to be given to works of refined art. It was this point which the Grecian philosophers wished to impress on the minds of their sculptors, not to follow their predecessors the Egyptians in sculpture, who represented their figures without motion, although nearly perfect in giving to them the external form. 'It is the passions,' said they, 'with which man is endowed, that we wish to see in the movements of your figures.' This advice of the philosophers was felt by the sculptors, and the Athenian marbles are the faithful records of the efficacy of that advice.
"That you may distinctly perceive and invariably distinguish what we mean by appropriate character in art, particularly in sculpture, I would class with these sculptures, the Hercules, the Apollo, the Venus, the Laocoon, and the Gladiator. In these examples you will find what is appropriate in character to subject, united with correctness of outline; and it is this combination of truths which has arrested the attention of an admiring world, ever since they were produced; and which will attract to them the admiration of after ages, so long as the workings of the mind on the external form can be contemplated and understood.
"Now let us see what works there are since the revival of art in the modern world, which rest on the same basis of appropriate character and correctness of outline, with those of the ancient Greeks.
"The Moses which the powers of Michael Angelo's mind has presented to our view, claims our first attention. In this statue the points of character, in every mode of precise, determinate, and elevated expression, have been carried to a pitch of grandeur which modern art has not since excelled. In this figure of Moses, Michael Angelo has fixed the unalterable standard of the Jewish lawgiver,—a character delineated and justified by the text in inspired sculpture. The character of Moses was well suited to the grandeur of the artist's conceptions, and to the dreadful energy of his feelings. Accordingly, in mental character, this figure holds the first station in modern art; and I believe we may venture to say, had no competitor in ancient, except those of the Jupiter and Minerva by Phidias. But the Saviour, all meekness and benevolence, which Michael Angelo made to accompany the Moses, was not in unison with his genius. The figure is mean, but slightly removed from an academical figure, and in no point appropriate to the subject: so are most of the single figures of the artist, in his great work on the Day of Judgment; but his groups in that composition are every where in character, and have not their rivals either in painting or sculpture. His Bacchus claims our admiration, as being appropriate to the subject, by the same excellence in delineation which distinguish the groups in the Day of Judgment. No person can have a higher veneration than I have for that grandeur of character impressed on the figures by Michael Angelo; but it is the fitness of the characters and of the action to the subject, to which I wish to draw your attention, and not to pour out praise on those points, in which he and other eminent masters are deficient. On this occasion, I must therefore be permitted to repeat, that most of the single figures in his great work of the Day of Judgment, are deficient in the fitness of appropriate character, and in the fitness of appropriate action to the subject; although as single figures they demand our admiration. But excellent as they are, they are but the ingenious adaptation of legs, arms, and heads, to the celebrated Torso, which bears his name, and which served as the model to most of his figures. All figures in composition, however excellent they may be in delineation, which have not their actions and expressions springing from the subject in which they are the actors, can only be considered as academical efforts, without the impress of mental power, and without any philosophical attention to the truth of the subject which the artist intended to illustrate.
"Leonardo da Vinci is the first who had a full and right conception of the principle which I wish to inculcate, and he has shown it in his picture of the Last Supper. But it is necessary to distinguish what parts of the picture deserve consideration. It is the decision, the appropriate character of the apostles to the subject; the significance of expression in their several countenances, and the diversity of action in each figure; their actions seemingly in perfect unison with their minds, and their figures individually in unison with their respective situations; some are confused at the words spoken by our Saviour: "There is one amongst you who shall betray me;" others are thrown under impressions of a different feeling. In this respect the picture has left us without an appeal, either to nature or to art. But Da Vinci failed in the head of our Saviour. He has failed in his attempt to combine the almost incompatible qualities of dignity and meekness which are demanded in the countenance of the Saviour. He had exhausted his powers of characteristic discrimination in the heads of the apostles; and in his attempt to give meekness to the countenance of Jesus, he sank into insipience. He had the prudence, therefore, to leave the face unfinished, that the imagination of the beholder might not be disappointed by an imperfect image, but form one in his mind more appropriate to his feelings and to the subject. The ruin of this picture, the report of which I understand is true, has deprived the world and the arts of one of the mental eyes of painting. But pleasing as the works of Leonardo da Vinci are in general, had he not produced this picture of the Last Supper, and the cartoon of the equestrian combatants for the standard of victory, he would scarcely have emerged, as a painter of strong character, above mediocrity. Indeed the back-ground, and general distribution of this picture, sufficiently mark their Gothic origin. But his pictures, generally speaking, are more characterised by their laborious finishing, gentleness, and sweetness of character, than by the energies of a lively imagination.
"Fra. Bartolomeo di St. Marco, of Florence, was one of the first who became enamoured of that superiority which grandeur and decision of character gives to art; and, indeed, of all those higher excellences which the philosophical mind of Da Vinci had accomplished. In the pictures of Bartolomeo we behold, for the first time, that breadth of the clair-obscure—the deep tones of colour, with their philosophical arrangement, united to that noble folding of drapery appropriate to, and significant of, every character it covered; a point of excellence in this master, from which Raphael caught his first conception of that noble simplicity which distinguishes the dignity of his draperies, and which it became his pride through life to imitate.
"Bartolomeo, in his figure of St. Mark, has convinced us how important and indispensable is the union of mental conception with truth of observation, in order to give a decided and appropriate character to an Evangelist of the Gospel. None of the pictures of this artist possess the excellence of his St. Mark except one, which is in the city of Lucca, the capital of the republic of that name; and, as that picture is but little known to travellers, and almost unknown to many artists who have visited Italy, a description of it may not be unacceptable.
"The picture is on pannel, and its dimensions somewhat about twenty feet in height by fourteen in width. The subject is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The composition is divided into three groups; the Apostles and the sepulchre form the centre group, from the midst of which the Virgin ascends; her body-drapery is of a deep ruby colour, which is the only decided red in the picture, and her mantle blue, but in depth of tone approaching to black, and extended by angels to nearly each side of the picture. This mantle is relieved by a light, in tone resembling that of the break of day, seen over the summit of a dark mountain, which gives an awful grandeur to the effect of the picture on entering the chapel, in which it is placed over the altar. That awful light of the morning is contrasted with the golden effulgence above; in the midst of which, our Saviour is seen with extended arms, to receive and welcome his mother.
"From the sepulchre, and the Apostles in the centre, to the fore-ground, the third group of figures partly lies in shade, occasioned by the over-shadowing of the Virgin's deep-toned mantle extended by angels. On the other part of the group, on the side where the light enters, the figures are seen in the broad blaze of day; and amongst them is the portrait of the artist.
"When I first saw this picture, my sensations were in unison with its awful character; and I confess that I was touched with the same kind of sensibility as when I heard the inexpressibly harmonious blendings of vocal sounds in the solemn notes of Non nobis Domine. I never felt more forcibly the dignity of music and the dignity of painting, than from these two compositions of art.
"When we consider the combination of excellence requisite to produce the sublime in painting; the union of propriety with dignity of character; the graceful grouping; the noble folding of drapery, and the deep sombrous tones of the clair-obscure, with appropriate colours harmoniously blending into one whole;—if there is a picture entitled to the appellation of sublime, from the union of all these excellences, It is that which I have described: considered in all its parts, it is, perhaps, superior to any work in painting, which has fallen under my observation.
"When these powerful essays in art by Da Vinci, Bartolomeo di St. Marco, and Michael Angelo became celebrated, Raphael, having attained his adult age, made his appearance at Florence; where the influence of the works of those three great artists pervaded all the avenues to excellence in art.
"The gentle sensibility of Raphael's mind was like the softened wax which makes more visible and distinct the form of the engraving with which it is touched. Blest by Nature with this endowment, he became like the heir to the treasured wealth of many families. Enriched by the accumulated experience which was then in Florence, united to the early tuition of delineating from nature under Pietro Perugino, and the subsequent discoveries of the Grecian relics, Raphael's mind became stored with all that was excellent; and he possessed a practised hand, to make his conceptions visible on his tablets. Possessing these powers, he was invited to Rome, and began his picture of The Dispute on the Sacrament. This picture he finished, together with The School of Athens, before he had attained his twenty-eighth year. At Rome he found himself amidst the splendour of a refined court, and in the focus of human endowment. He became sensible of the rare advantages of his situation; he had industry and ardour to combine and to embrace them all; and the effect is visible in his works. The theological arrangement of the disputants on the Sacrament, and the scholastic controversies at Athens, convince us of this truth. In the upper part of the Dispute on the Sacrament, something may be observed of that taste of Bartolomeo in drapery, and of the dryness and hardness of his first master Pietro Perugino; but in the parts which make the aggregate of that work, he has blended the result of his own observations. In his School of Athens, this is still more strikingly the case; and in his Heliodorus we see additional dignity and an enlargement of style.
"At this period of his life, such was the desire of his society by the great, and such the ambition of standing forward amongst his patrons by all who were eminent for rank and taste, that he was seduced into courtly habits, and relaxed from that studious industry, with which he had formerly laboured; and there are evident marks in many of his works in the Vatican, of a decline of excellence, and that he was suffering pleasure and indolence to rob him of his fame. Sensible of this decline in his compositions, the powers of his mind re-assumed their energies; and that re-animation stands marked in his unrivalled compositions of the Cartoons which are in this country, and in the picture of the Transfiguration.
"The transcendant excellence in composition, and in appropriate character to subject, in the cartoon of Paul preaching at Athens, has left us to desire or expect nothing farther to be done in telling this incident of history.
"In the composition of the death of Ananias, and in the single figure of Elymas the sorcerer struck blind, we have the same example of excellence. We have indeed in many of the characters and groups in the cartoons, the various modes of reasoning, speaking, and feeling; but so blended with nature and truth, and so precise and determined in character, that criticism has nothing wherewith in that respect to ask for amendment.
"Had the life of this illustrious painter, which closed on his birth-day in his thirty-seventh year, been prolonged to the period of that of Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, or Titian, when in the space of seventeen years at Rome he has given the world more unrivalled works of art, than has fallen to the lot of any other painter, what an additional excellence might we not have expected in his works for subsequent generations to admire.
"The next distinguished artist who comes under our consideration is Titian. The grandeur which Michael Angelo gave to the human figure, Titian has rivalled in colour, and both were dignified during their lives with the appellation of The Divine.
"I will pass over the many appropriate portraits which he painted of men, and the portraits of women, though not the most distinguished for beauty, in the character of Venus, to meet the fashion of the age in which he lived; and notice only those works of mental power, which have raised him to eminence in the class of refined artists. On this point, you will find that his picture of St. Peter Martyr will justify the claim he has to that rank.
"St. Peter the Martyr was the head of a religious sect: when on his way from the confines of Germany to Milan with a companion, he was attacked by one in opposition to his religious principles while passing through a wood, and murdered. This is the subject of the picture. The prostrate figure of the Saint, just fallen by a blow from the assassin, raises one of his hands towards heaven, with a countenance of confidence in eternal reward for the firmness of his faith; while the assassin grasps with his left hand the mantle of his victim, the better to enable him, by his uplifted sword in the other hand, to give the fatal blow to the fallen saint. The companion is flying off in frantic dismay, and has received a wound in the head from the assassin.
"The ferocious and determined action of the murderer bestriding the body of the fallen saint, completes a group of figures which have not a rival in art. The majestic trees, as well as the sable and rugged furze, form an awful back-ground to this tragical scene, every way appropriate to the subject. The heavenly messengers seen in the glory above, bearing the palm branches as the emblem of reward for martyrdom, form the second light; the first being the sky and cloud, which gives relief to the black drapery of the wounded companion; while the rays of light from the emanation above, sparkling on the dark branches of the trees as so many diamonds, tie together by their light all the others from the top to the bottom of the picture. The terror which the act of the murderer has spread, is denoted by the speed of the horseman passing into the gloomy recesses of a distant part of the forest.
"This picture, taken in the aggregate, is the first work in art in which the human figure and landscape are combined as an historical landscape, and where all the objects are the full size of nature.
"When I saw this picture at Venice in 1761, it was then in the same state of purity as when the Bologna artists saw and studied it; and it is recorded that Caracci declared this picture to be without fault. But we have to lament the fatal effects which the goddess Bellona has ever occasioned to the fine arts when she mounts her iron chariot of destruction. When this picture fell under her rapacious power, on board a French vessel passing down the Adriatic sea from Venice, one of our cruisers chased the vessel into the port of Ancona, and a cannon-shot pierced the pannel on which the picture was painted, and shivered a portion of it into pieces.
"On its arrival at Paris, the committee of the fine arts found it necessary to remove the painting from the pannel, and place it on canvass; but the picture has lost the principal light.
"But to sum up Titian's powers of conception, no one has equalled him in the propriety and fitness of colour. His pictures of St. Peter Martyr; the David and Goliah; and the Last Supper, which is in the Escurial, stand in the very highest rank in art. On the latter of these pictures being finished, Titian in his letter to the King, announcing the circumstance, says that it had been the labour of seven years. But by his original sketch in oil colours, which I have the good fortune to possess, and by which we may form an estimate, although the general effect and composition are unrivalled, the characters of the heads of the apostles are not equal to those of Leonardo da Vinci on the same subject.
"Antonio Allegri da Correggio is the sixth source, whose emanating powers have illuminated the fine arts in the modern world. A superstitious mind, on seeing his works, would suppose that he had received his tuition in painting from the angels; as his figures seem to belong to another race of being than man, and to have something too celestial for the forms of earth to have presented to his view. Such have been the sayings of many on seeing his works at Parma, but, to my conception, he painted from the nature with which he was surrounded. His pictures of the Note, St. Gierolimo, and the St. George, are evident proofs of the observation. In the first of these pictures his mental conception shines supreme. It is the idea of illuminating the child in the subject of our Saviour's nativity. This splendid thought of giving light to the infant Christ, whose divine mission was to illuminate the human mind from Pagan darkness, no painter has since been so bold as to omit in any composition on the same subject. The two latter pictures have all the beauties seen in the paintings of this master, but they are deficient in appropriate character.
"The inspiring power of Correggio's works illuminated the genius of Parmegiano, the energetic movements of whose graceful figures have never been equalled, nor are they deficient in the moral influence of the art. His Moses breaking the tables in a church at Parma, and his picture of the vision of St. Gierolimo, now in England, are filled with the impress of his intellectual powers, and stand pre-eminent over all his works.
"I have thus taken a survey of the works of art, which stand supreme among the productions of Grecian and Italian genius, and which are the sources from which the subsequent schools have derived most of the principles of their celebrity.
"The papal vortex drew into it nearly all the various powers of human refinement, and the inspiring influence of the first school in art having centered in Rome gave it superiority, till the Constable Bourbon, by sacking that city, obliged the fine arts to fly from their place, like doves from the vultures: they never re-appeared at Rome but with secondary power.
"About a century subsequent to their flight from Rome they were re-animated, and formed the second school of art in Italy at the city of Bologna under the Carracci, at the head of which was Ludovico. He and his two relatives, Hanibal and Augustin Carracci, derived their principles from the Venetian School, from Titian, Paul Veronese, and Tintoret, and from the Lombard School of Correggio and Parmegiano. But the good sense of Ludovico raised by them and himself a school of their own, which excelled in the power of delineating the human figure, but which power gave to that school more academical taste than mental character.
"Their great work was that in the convent of St. Michael in Boresco, near Bologna; but this work has perished by damp, and the only remains on record of what it was, are in the coarse prints which were done from copies executed when it was in good condition. But grand as it must have been according to the evidence of these prints, it was but an academical composition.
"The picture by Ludovico, however, of our Saviour's Transfiguration on the Mount, consisting of six figures double the size of life, has embraced nearly all the points of art, and has placed the artist high in the first class of painters.
"The masters of the Bolognese school going to Rome and other parts of Italy, their successors at Bologna contented themselves by retailing the several manners of the three Carracci—Guido, Domenichino and Guercino. This system of retailing continued to descend from master to pupil, until the school of Bologna sunk into irrecoverable imbecility.
"The most esteemed work in painting by Augustine Carracci is the Communion of St. Jerom. It possesses grandeur of style, is bold in execution, and the faces are not deficient in the appropriate expression of sensibility towards the object before them. It was on the composition of this picture, that Domenichino formed his on the same subject, so much celebrated as to be considered next in merit to Raphael's Transfiguration. But fine as it is admitted to be, we must say, as a borrowed idea, it lessens the merit of the artist's originality of mind.
"The finest picture by Guido is in a church at Genoa, where he has brought to a focus all the force of his powers in grace and beauty, with an expression and execution of pencil rarely to be met with in art. The subject is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The angels, who surround the Virgin, have something in their faces so celestial, that they seem as if they had really descended from Heaven, and sat to the artist while he painted them. The Virgin herself seems to have had the same complacency. The characters of the Apostles' heads are so exquisitely drawn and painted, as to be without competition in the works of any other painter.
"The most esteemed picture by Guercino is is that of Santa Petranella, which he painted for St. Peter's Church, at Rome.
"But, Gentlemen, if you aspire to excellence in your profession, you must not rest your future studies on the excellence of any individual, however exalted his name or genius; but, like the industrious bee, survey the whole face of nature, and sip the sweets from every flower. When thus enriched, lay up your acquisitions for future use; and with that enrichment from Nature's inexhaustible source, examine the great works of art to animate your feelings, and to excite your emulation. When you are thus mentally enriched, and your hand practised to obey the powers of your will, you will then find your pencils, or your chisels, as magic wands, calling into view creations of your own, to adorn your name and your country.
"I cannot, however, close this Discourse, without acknowledging a debt due from this Academy, as well as that which is due to the Academy itself. Soon after His present Majesty had ascended the throne, his benign regard for the prosperity of the fine arts in these realms was manifested by his gracious commands to establish this favoured Institution.
"The heart of every artist, and of the friend of art, glowed with mutual congratulation to see a British King, for the first time, at the head of the fine arts. His Majesty nominated forty members guardians to his infant academy; and that they have been faithful to the trust which he graciously reposed in them, the several apartments under this roof sufficiently testify. The professors are highly endowed with accomplishments and scientific knowledge in the several branches to which they are respectively appointed; and the funds able to render relief to the indigent and decayed artists, their widows and children.
"Who can reflect for a moment on the rare advantages here held out for the instruction of youthful genius, and the aid given to the decayed, their widows and helpless offspring, without feeling the grateful emotions of the heart rise towards a patriot King, for giving to the arts this home within the walls of a stately mansion, and towards the members of this Academy, who, as his faithful guardians, have so ably fulfilled the purposes for which the Institution was formed.